Looking outside the barrel: Royal Slope family takes new approach to the wine industry

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Lisa Lawrence/courtesy photo

ROYAL SLOPE — They say wine only gets better with age.

And to produce quality wine also requires time, patience, and a unwaivering dedication to learning and growing; a process which Josh and Lisa Lawrence have come to know well as the proprietors of Gård Vintners.

“It’s a patient process,” said Lisa.

With their growing business, the Lawrences stay active, keeping up on ever changing trends in wine production and continually learning new ways to improve their craft.

JOSH AND LISA

Josh grew up on a farm in Royal City, and gained a first-hand experience in agriculture.

He and Lisa first met while attending college at Pacific Lutheran University, and the two were wed shortly after college.

In 1998, Josh attended a WAGG convention and gained an interest in adding a new crop to his farming mix: grapes. He started a wine importing company shortly thereafter, and as his interest in growing grapes grew, so to did the idea for producing wine. He figured that if they were going to grow grapes they should make wine as well.

Then in 2001, the couple decided to move back to the Royal Slope where Josh then farmed for a few years.

GETTING STARTED

Though Gård Vintners was founded in 2006, much of the work began even sooner.

“We started planting vineyards in 2003,” said Josh.

It takes two and a half years to produce grapes, and much of the planting is done in the spring. The quality of grapes matures as they age, Josh explained.

All of their grapes are grown solely on the Lawrence Vineyards estate.

“The advantage is that we manage the entire process,” said Lisa. Because all of the vineyards are on the Royal Slope, the Lawrences are able to control every aspect of the process without being reliant on outside help.

“We were happy to do it on a small scale and learn as we went,” said Josh.

Today, the Lawrences grow about 17 different varieties of grapes across 300 acres. Of that, they keep about 10 percent of the grapes they produce for Gård Vintners as the rest of the grapes are then marketed to other wineries.

They have planted vineyards every year since the beginning, Josh explained, with the exception of taking a year off from planting in 2005. They plant depending on the demand, which typically comes out to about six to eight blocks, he said.

About 75 percent of the grapes grown are for red wines, with the additional 25 percent for whites and rosés.

“We’ll continue to plant,” said Josh.

Upon starting the Gård Vintners wine label, the Lawrences decided to get creative with the name. They chose Gård as it means “farm” in the Scandinavian languages, and also pays tribute to their heritage.

Josh and Lisa work as a team, with Josh doing the growing and overseeing of the estate vineyards, and Lisa handling all of the marketing.

SLOW AND STEADY

Once harvested, the grapes are shipped to Walla Walla where a team of viticulturists and a winemaker carry out the rest of production.

It is a patient process Lisa said, as it takes months to years to let the wine sit before it can be distributed. Red wine especially takes time as it must sit in barrel for about 18 months, and an additional two years of sitting after it’s bottled before it is ready for market she explained.

Both the winemaker and the viticulturists visit the slope weekly to check on things, giving the Lawrences a unique advantage as they are able to maintain a great and close relationship with the team, Josh explained.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Today, Gård Vintners remains a family owned and operated business including three tasting rooms located in Walla Walla, Woodinville and Ellensburg, Wash.

Along with overseeing Gård Vintners, Josh and Lisa also oversee other, various farming operations, and continue to raise their three children on the farm.

Josh also explained that the Royal Slope continues to be instrumental in their productivity, as the area has been successful for many crops, not just grapes.

“Anything in the world can be grown here,” said Josh. “It’s unique to have an agricultural area this young producing to this magnitude.”

The Lawrences plan to continue honing their skills and watching market trends. They remain willing to do whatever it takes to see their wine to its highest potential.

“Our goal is to make the best wine in the state,” said Josh.

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